Now that Lincoln Center has injected some adrenaline into its sluggish redevelopment project, maybe someone can find a better security measure than the concrete blocks that function as the plaza’s Broadway façade. They’re called Jersey barriers, presumably because they were invented to deter invasion from across the Hudson, and in their natural state they have a certain brutish elegance, if you like that kind of thing. But at Lincoln Center, they have been embellished with flora – petunias in warm weather, polychrome cabbage heads in January – making them look like Vin Diesel in a peacock hat.
More aesthetically pleasing security solutions do exist. (What, exactly, they’re protecting against at Lincoln Center is a whole other topic.) But discussions about the campus have been focused on the plans by the architectural firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro to transform the bleak wind tunnel of 65th St. into a Little White Way, aglitter with marquees. (Juilliard! Live Musicians! Fully Clothed!) And that’s just the first stage of a full-scale, $7.8 gazillion refurbishment that is currently expected to be completed in time for opening of the 2347-8 concert season. So, really, there’s no time for fiddling with details like ugly battlements that, after all, have only been there four years.
The barriers are meant to function the way a mosquito screen or a water filter does, letting the right sort in and keeping undesirables out. As such, they speak to an identity crisis at Lincoln Center. It was conceived in the mid nineteen-fiftes as an arts acropolis, elevated above, and separate from, what was then an iffy neighborhood. Now that the area is populated by people who pay very high rents and like to walk to the opera, Lincoln Center would love nothing better than to attract the public (young, creative, curious and poor) that lives in places like Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.
Which brings us to a clutch of paradoxes: How do you make a public place simultaneously inviting and secure? How do you attract new audiences while keeping ticket prices at tycoon levels? How do you keep a juggernaut institution nimble? How do you plan for the future without forgetting the present?
You could start by sweeping up the cabbages and sending the barriers back out of state.
— Justin Davidson